Branding 101: The Basics of Branding

What is your brand?

If you’re a marketing professional, or have ever talked to a sales & marketing person, you’ve heard this question many times. Perhaps, as an entrepreneur or business owner, you’ve asked this question yourself, wondering how the idea of “brand” fits in with your company. 

And if you haven’t asked this question yet, you should.

A brand is a set of visual cues and written elements that uniquely identify an organization. There can be several components to your brand – here are some of the most basic:

  • The company’s name
  • A tagline
  • Logo
  • Brand Colors

For example, think of Nike. Nike is the company’s name, but has become such a distinctive brand for shoes that when a person says, “Check out my Nikes,” you know they’re talking about shoes. The tagline? “Just Do It.” As for the logo & colors, the “Nike Swoosh,” whether in black or white, is so iconic you can just look at it without the tagline and know the message being conveyed. 

Recently, additional elements have been associated with an organization’s brand, such as: 

  • Mission Statement
  • Vision Statement
  • Core Values
  • Core Talkable Differences (Key Differentiators)

Typically, all of these elements are compiled together into a single document called a Brand Book. This document is used by creative and marketing professionals to maintain consistency when representing the organization. 

Why Is Your Brand Important?

Your brand is effectively your identity in the minds of your clients and prospects. It’s what gives your business individuality and makes it stand out from the competition. It’s the message or idea that your customer remembers most about you. Without an effective brand, businesses tend to forget you or place a lower value on your services. They’re also apt to fill the void by creating their own impressions based on preconceived notions, which can often be misleading or wrong. 

Your brand also helps you establish a common community within your organization: a set of shared ideals that your employees can believe in and help them take actions that are consistent with the values of the organization. Businesses encounter moral decisions all the time, and those situations are much easier to deal with when there is a set of clearly established guidelines that define a shared identity. 

Best of all, when executed properly, your brand becomes the product. Google is a great example. Google is the name of the most popular search engine on the web. But because of their brilliant branding, “Google” is the word we commonly use to describe the searching itself. “How long does it take to get to Cary from Durham? I don’t know…guess I’ll Google it.” That’s the kind of branding you want – that’s why it’s so important.

But be careful not to focus on building a brand before establishing a solid foundation for your business. This foundation includes things like:

  • Clearly understanding your value proposition 
  • Identifying your ideal customer
  • Developing ideas to acquire those customers
  • Understanding how to provide your services in a sustainable manner 

Sometimes it’s better to create a basic but professional brand initially, then build a more premium look as your budget and timeframe allows. There are plenty of successful companies with terrible branding, and an even greater number of businesses with terrific branding that didn’t last a year. Your brand can and should accent and differentiate your business, but is not a substitute to a great product or service. 

When Should You Create or Change Your Brand?

There are several instances when adjusting your brand becomes ideal:

  • Launching a business
  • Pivoting to a new Market or Product Line
  • New Management or Ownership
  • Changing tastes or sensibilities (feeling your logo is outdated or no longer represents your company’s culture)
  • Disassociating from a major negative event within the business (a major PR scandal for example) 

Oftentimes, the decision to change or scrap your current branding is one of those gut feelings that an entrepreneur has to carefully consider. Of course, the more market data you have to support that decision, the better. But typically, it comes down to having the objectivity to say, “this direction isn’t working, lets try something different.” Just remember: effective branding does take time to penetrate the market and resonate with your audience, so be patient. If you’re not facing one of the situations above, take another look at your sales & marketing plan before you consider changing the elements of your brand.

The Common Pitfalls of Branding

As mentioned above, Changing your brand too often can create confusion in your clients and give off an unprofessional appearance. As a rough guide, businesses revisit their brand every 7 to 10 years in an established company and 3 to 5 years in a startup. “Modernizing” an established brand can cause as much backlash as not doing it, so make this choice carefully.

Some brand projects are never completed, Either because of the work involved in creating the brand’s assets or the availability of resources to complete these assets in a timely manner. It’s important to delegate and set realistic deadlines to ensure your Brand Book is completed in a timely manner. Creating a brand and its accompanying assets is a skill all its own. When choosing people to work on your brand, be sure to look at their portfolios to ensure they’re capable of providing the quality of work that you’re looking for.

Finally, be ready to pull the trigger and commit. A hidden danger in branding is the inability for the principals to commit to a brand message for fear of sending the wrong signal to clients. This indecisiveness can stall branding projects and lead to wasted time, effort, resources…and potentially lost opportunity. It’s important to draw a balance between having a brand that’s professional, being representative of your business and completing the project in a timely manner.

Creating your Brand Book and all its associated assets is a critical component to starting your new business, or taking your existing business to the next level. Your Brand Book will not only be your road map to your company’s messaging, but help to differentiate your business in a competitive market environment. In our next post, we’ll take a detailed look at the brand building process: the planning, execution and rollout that’s necessary to create an effective brand strategy.

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